Alfred Gorden Jennings earned his nickname the day after his only professional game, as the catcher for the Milwaukee Grays in 1878; and it was given to him by on of the most famous baseball writers of the era.
The Grays had three catchers in 1878; Charlie Bennett, Will Foley and Bill Hobart, all of whom were injured on August 15 while Milwaukee was in Cincinnati for a series with the Reds. Grays Manager Jack “Death to Flying Things” Chapman found Jennings, who had been playing with local semi-pro and amateur teams for a decade, and put him in the lineup for the August 15 game.
“We were all mixed in our signs. I signed for an outcurve and got an inshoot which broke a couple of fingers. ‘Go ahead,’ I said, ‘ I’ll stay here all day even if I have to stop ‘em with my elbows. You can’t drive me away.’ Well they didn’t.”
Jennings was officially credited with 10 passed balls (he claimed he had 17), a record that stood until 1884.
The morning after the game in The Cincinnati Enquirer, the headline on Oliver Perry “O. P.” Caylor’s story read:
Alamazoo Jennings Makes His Debut Behind the Bat
His Gall Holds Out but His Hands Weaken
“(Jennings) looked so large and handsome and very like a catcher that Manager Chapman was mashed, and straightaway engaged him, and clinched the bargain with a dinner. When Al pulled on his sole- leather gloves and poised near the grandstand at three o’clock, the crowd scarcely breathed. Zip came the ball from Golden’s hand; bang it went against the backstop because Al had stooped too late to pick it up. It took several minutes for him to gauge the speed of Golden’s pitching, but he got it down fine at last, and stopped a ball every once in awhile. But, the low comedy parts came in when the new catcher went up close behind the bat. A batter had but to get on first base and a run was scored. They went to second and third without danger, and tallied on a passed ball.”
Jennings told Mulford his reaction to Caylor’s story:
“I read a few lines and wanted to fight. I read a few lines more and had to laugh.”
That game was the end of Jennings’ one-day professional career. Shortly afterwards he began a more than 10-year run as a minor league umpire in the Bluegrass, Southern, Northwestern and Interstate Leagues. He also served as an umpire in the Union Association in 1884, his only season in a major league.
Mulford would occasionally update his readers about Jennings, of whom he said:
“With all his peculiarities, Amamazoo is a good fellow, and he has as many friends in and out of the profession as anybody ever connected with the great national game.”
By 1891 he gave up umpiring to become “The Parched Corn King of America,”selling his product in “three cities–Cincinnati, Covington and Newport—and netting every day ten times the amount of the original capital invested in the enterprise.”
by November of 1894 Jennings had moved on from the “parched corn” business, to “pushing an insect killer,” when as The Sporting Life said: “Death entered another victory upon his scorebook.” He was 43-years-old.
The Enquirer said for his funeral his friends ordered a “floral piece…over seven feet high. It is made of beautiful flowers. Two large floral bats cross each other above, and below then are two floral balls, and at the bottom of the piece the inscription: ‘His Last Decision.'”